“obstruction of perception can illuminate
alternate modes of knowledge and experience”
“identity is inextricably intertwined with potentiality
or promise and possibility”
“the notion of potentiality is itself something of a mirage,
an illusion that blinds to the reality of present day constraints.”
He steps to the reeking trough in the empty restroom and strains to get started. Had he known this bar had a trough, he wouldn’t have come. He thinks about the people who don’t think about him—surely beautifully big-dicked guys who like troughs, design troughs, install troughs, purchase troughs for their hip bars, don’t have to think about troughs at all, really.
Urgency and too much to drink makes him slow and extra careful. He turns as much away from the door as he can while still hitting the trough. A high-pitched note like the old off-air broadcast signal sounds the emergency in his head. He isn’t quite finished when the guy walks in, but he shuts it down, tucks it away, and feels the warmth down his leg. He brushes by the guy without saying a word and without washing his hands. He pays his tab, begs off for the night, and walks home, adding the bar to his blacklist.
He hasn’t been in a locker room since that therapeutically mandated “year of living full-time as a man,” an immersive experience required to prove to the gatekeepers that he wasn’t mistaken, wouldn’t regret the irreversible decisions he wanted to make, wasn’t the wrong kind of mentally ill. A full year, man. He feels its weight, still. At first he dresses in his workout clothes at home, uses the locker room only to store his bag, and doesn’t look around. He expands his range with every visit, finding ways to linger and discreetly observe the locker room behavior of the common male. Men walk naked to the hand dryers to blow dry their balls. They walk naked to urinals to pee and to grunt away in stalls. One guy—a regular—dresses facing out from the lockers, looking around as he puts on socks, t-shirt, dress shirt, tie—god, even the tie first!—before pulling on Calvin Klein briefs to corral his bobbing dick. Which is more disturbing, the man’s exhibitionism or his having watched the whole act?
He envies them all, but his deepest yearning is for the steam room, to feel his body loosen, tension and toxins flowing out his pores, to enjoy naked comradery, a few crude jokes, talk of work tedium and relief pitchers that suck. Naked isn’t going to work, but he enters the steam room twice, both times wearing one of those suits wrestlers use to make weight. It is a pretty solid cover scheme and though they all watch him come in, no one says anything, which is both good and also not what he wants. And drop by drop he becomes smaller. How much more of himself can he lose? On the way home after the second steam, he passes out on the sidewalk near Dolores Park. He stops going to the gym and when the year is up, lets his membership lapse.
“the culturally or politically
constructed concept of a place
s the actual experience of
His friends—and he hasn’t told his friends, at least the new ones made after his transition, so he thinks they don’t know and also that he is a shitty friend—they talk about the penis adventures associated with raising their baby boys, the wily penis projecting a fountain during diaper changes, the sprinkler system of their distracted toddlers during potty training, five-year-olds sorting the world into the dicked and the dickless. He listens, laughs where he’s supposed to, asks questions that seem sensible, and does nothing that would tip his hand.
Like the other day, when his friends had a fundraiser for a co-op style “unschool” that is all the rage in the completely bullshit parenting and educational philosophy of hipsters in the Bay Area. He doesn’t have kids but knows he has to seem to enjoy that his friends do. Happily there were a few other oddballs there, single and/-or childless and/-or just into the normality of public school-afflicted children, and they said “ooooo” and “aahhh” at the cuteness like they are supposed to but then moved off to the side to form a peanut gallery, awaiting the chaos, because it’s just a matter of time with these kids. A pool was set up and the monsters were all running around naked, because hey, it’s San Francisco, and it’s hard not to be cliché, and then this little girl poked a little boy’s nutsack and she’d found a game where she was the winner if she poked all the boys in their nutsacks.
The parents were bound by their philosophy to see this as a perfectly reasonable unschool learning opportunity, call it a lesson in the empirical study of human anatomy, but he watched a few parents suggest to their children, “Are you tired of pool time” and “Do you want a towel?” and “Brrrr, it’s getting cold, let’s get you dressed.” He laughed with the rest of the peanuts. He was sweating alone.
Sometimes he wishes he’d gone to war, been injured just so, that all this could be explained by an explosion that took his manhood, a story he is sure would elicit deep pity and understanding. He would be heroic. He imagines the medical community rallying to create a robotic prosthetic or some empathetic researcher cracking the code on penis transplants. Do it for our boys. Blinded, crippled, scarred, limbed, paralyzed, and yet men want to know: Is my junk still there? Will it still work?
He is not proud of these thoughts.
His sex life is fantastic. He laughs at his own joke. He spends a lot of time reading posts by other FTMs on Craigslist, trying to see how they are managing the seemingly impossible. Some say they want to be used in all three holes, a few just want oral and anal. A few offer the blowjob of a lifetime because, he knows, they just want some contact with real junk, its smell and taste and feel in their hands and mouths. Lots of bottoms in the “men seeking men” section. The men who express openness to men like him are driven by curiosity and fetishes: they know how big the clit grows, they’ve heard about the horniness and FTMs’ cock cravings, their minds reel at three glorious holes to use, and many want the “smooth, boyish+++++” fantasy. They don’t think of themselves in any ways that might be problematic. “Please know what FTM means” shows up in a lot of posts as does “I’ve been with an FTM before and want it again.” He wonders what “it” is to them.
Things are better, seemingly safer, on the “women seeking men” side. Women have always been kinder to him, from the tomboy days to his one and only partner, the woman who first loved him as a man, who never slipped up on pronouns, cried with him when the gatekeepers wouldn’t give him testosterone, celebrated the first scruff of facial hair, went to court with him to get his name changed, danced on the moon with him when his new driver’s license with his new name came in the mail with the M the DMV had insisted he couldn’t have. He didn’t know if it was possible to be happier.
Yes, she was amazing. And, it turned out, polyamorous and unwilling to shackle herself to just him. He hasn’t been with anyone since and is pretty sure he is gay but the guys who are gay want partners with dicks and, well, he doesn’t blame them. He wants the same goddamn thing.
d s c o n n e t
idealism and the mundane”
He has a mental manual of emergency procedures. Step One, hold it and wait for home. He can hold it through a day of work if he doesn’t drink anything, but he pays for this with infections. And thirst. Step Two, locate every single-stall restroom with a locking outer door in the area and suggest stops, lunch, drinks, whatever, at only those places. Step Three, get as close as possible to the bowl while standing in the stall, thrust hips and hope for the best. Step Four, sit down in the stall, hold and release heavy breaths as if pushing, take a long time, hope the stream in the bowl doesn’t sound like a girl’s, and wait for the restroom to clear.
At work one day the Big Boss Man stopped by to check progress on the deck they were building. He watched as the homeowner came out of the house, pulled Big Boss Man aside and ripped him a new one. Boss Man didn’t say much to the homeowner but told the crew to pack up. With no porta-john and no permission to use the restroom inside the house, one guy had pissed in the bushes right outside the man’s wife’s sewing room window and she’d been scandalized by the show. Everyone laughed, even the perp. But that right there is exactly why he never goes. There are eyes everywhere.
Looking every bit the prepubescent male and always needing a stall are potential tells he cannot risk long-term. Somewhere, someone, sometime, the possibility of being discovered makes him edgy. He is well-versed in the stories of others who have been humiliated, bullied, raped, beaten. He fears this, yes, but if he is honest, it’s more that he just wants to be a man, not a man with an asterisk. People change when they know. It’s important to him that they not know.
He’s always had small breasts, size A’s that could be concealed under layers of loose shirts and some hunching, but it’s time to become one of Bev’s Boyz. Bev is a plastic surgeon in Maryland who does the keyhole procedure he’s looking for: instead of leaving long scars under the pecs, she makes the incision at the areola and sucks out the fat and glandular tissue. This only works if the breasts are small to begin with. She can also resize the nipple a bit and give the whole package a better placement on the chest. More male-looking.
As he counts backwards from ninety-nine, the darkness opens to a light at the end of a perfect barrel wave. He’s surfing. He cannot see himself but he knows he is wearing board shorts and that his torso is bare and tanned and glistening in the ocean spray. He doesn’t reach the end of the wave before a technician rouses him. A friend drives him to the hotel where he will stay four nights before flying back home. Because he can’t, that first night she takes care of the drain tubes hanging out either side of his chest. He worries about hematomas and infections and even worse, horrors he’s seen on websites. He is in a lot of pain and ridiculously happy. They are gone. Dr. Bev’s given him a baseball cap that has an embroidered male chest and “Bev’s Boyz” on it. He fingers the stitching before tossing it in the trash.
That same year he gets a hysterectomy. It’ll be the surgery that allows him to get his documents changed. If he could afford it and if the results looked better and didn’t cause so many urinary problems and . . . and . . . and . . . and . . ., he’d get a dick too. Maybe down the road, but he doubts it. Anyway, it’s the morning of surgery and a technician comes in to put in the IV port. “So, you’re like a guy that has extra parts?” He doesn’t quite know what to say to this. He explains the technicalities and shows the techguy his modified chest. He doesn’t know why he shows the guy his chest. “Huh. Weird. Well, good for you.”
On the heels of this exchange he’s wheeled down the hall. He desperately wants to be out of his mind that’s gripped by a new tormentor: once he’s under, he’ll be a spectacle. Everyone in the operating room will be free to look him over and laugh.
He conducts a sociological study of men’s restroom behaviors. He is an actor preparing for the role of a lifetime. He goes to A’s baseball games and doesn’t watch the game. He mills about all the men’s restrooms instead. He starts by standing outside with a hot dog he doesn’t eat and notes how long they are in there, what their facial expressions are, how they carry themselves, where the bulge seems to be.
When the rush happens between innings and a critical mass swarms, he gets in line against the wall as if waiting for a stall and watches. Is it just the zipper or the button too? How about the belt? Grab with one hand, two hands, no hands? He’s seen more than one dude put both hands against the wall as if being frisked. He listens to the stream. Fast and loud into the water? Quiet against the back porcelain? Stop and go? Some can’t get started, some sigh with relief. Some shake, others don’t. Some close up everything before backing away, others work on it all the way to the door. Some use a wide stance and a hip thrust, moving it around as if drawing. Chitchat is rare. Washing hands, optional.
He takes his research to the internet and gets out his credit card. He pays $90 for a packer—a flesh-colored dick and balls made of silicone that promises the look and realistic feel of a flaccid penis. How would he know? He drops another $30 for a swanky jockstrap to hold it, and now he has a bulge that helps him look right. But the thing is uncomfortable as hell, the silicone growing sticky from sweat throughout the day and pulling at his pubes, and there is always the danger it will fall out. But the real problem is that none of this gets him any closer to his sad little Holy Grail: To whip it out—at the urinal, outside, wherever and whenever the fuck he wants—is an ability at the center of his goddamn universe. It’s not the thing itself, but the normalcy the thing will give him, the ease of not having to think and plan and watch all the time.
No, the bulge is not enough.
So he shells out $160 for a “pissing packer.” This new product is also made of silicone, but through it runs a length of surgical tubing flush at the tip and protruding about two or three inches at the back of the fake balls. Affixed to the end of the tubing is a hard plastic spoon, a sawed off bit from the kind of spoons used to deliver medicine to children. This contraption hangs from a harness around the waist.
He rehearses for the performance. The spoon has to be positioned at the right spot and this sucks because the spoon is small and he hates this part of his body. He straddles the toilet bowl, pissing all over his hands, the rim, the floor until he gets shit to line up and yellow finally dribbles out the tip.
After he gets that right a few times, he puts the thing in the harness and, still naked, stands in front of the bowl and works on aiming the tip and it’s stupidly difficult, hard to get enough pressure so the stream doesn’t go sideways but not so much that it overflows the spoon. And when this finally seems to mostly work, he adds boxers to the equation and, for fuck’s sake, he can’t get the waistband out of the way in order to have room enough to position everything, so he goes to the store for a larger size, a looser waistband that can be stretched more easily, and that solves that problem, so he adds his jeans.
He positions a mirror to study his moves, the sleight of hand, a wide stance so his bulky, too-large boxers and jeans don’t fall down, the left hand positioning the spoon, the right aiming the tip, a shake and lifting of the tubing to drain any residual. It works.
The first time he tries it in public, he goes into a stall rather than the urinal, just to be safe. There are others in the restroom. His hands shake. Too late he feels the warm stream coursing down his leg, the dark stain spreading on the inside of his pant leg. He runs all the way home in his piss-soaked jeans, crying. He throws everything in the trash and goes back to the emergency manual and mostly being too busy or too tired or too whatever to go out.
Long after his drivers’ license and birth certificate and name have been changed, after somehow overcoming squeamishness about very long needles and self-injections every two weeks, after chest surgery and a hysterectomy, this fucking penis problem seems one he cannot solve.
He’s imposed a travel ban on himself, at least travel by airline. He won’t subject himself to the body scanner. He imagines no scenario but this: he puts his feet on the yellow painted footprints and his arms in the air. The scanner captures his secret. He stands exposed and trapped in the glass bubble. All the lines come to a halt, all the people watch him in his new display case, all the TSA agents hover around the image on the screen, snickering, scanning him with laughing eyes, and then for shits and giggles they decide his fate will be closer scrutiny in that room no one wants to end up in. He is just the kind of threat to public safety they’ve been looking for.
He knows this sounds paranoid. He uses 9/11 as an excuse like everybody else. Better safe than sorry.
He’s amended a good deal of the digital paper trail that follows everyone in this life, but every once in a while, something pops up and he hates the process of fixing it almost as much as how it makes him feel—a joke, a freak, a nuisance. Like the time he needed the utilities hooked up at his new apartment. They ran the credit check and somehow went far enough back to decide to put “Mrs.” on the billing statement. He had to call, make the explanation, wait through the awkward silence, and listen as the customer service rep misgendered him one last time before he hung up.
He always feels like he’s the main story for that kind of person’s “guess what happened to me at work today” report at home. “You aren’t as heavy on people’s minds as you think you are,” a friend once said.
He thinks about getting into computer science so he can be a hacker. He’d specialize in helping the trans community wipe out their pre-existing condition flags for insurance. He’d fix school transcripts, employment histories, news articles from their elementary school days, taxes, loans, credit histories. Of course he’d do the usual stuff with social security, birth certificates, and the DMV, too: one-stop service.
And he’d fix the new one he’s up against. He went to apply for a government job that features both a desk and triple what he’s making as a carpenter. He can’t imagine being able to do manual labor much longer. His back and knees already feel shot. He stared at the application form. Nearly the first question after name and address: registration for Selective Service. When he transitioned he was just over the required registration age, but now he technically is in violation of the law because he didn’t ever register. He pulled out his phone to find the remedy. Ah, he wouldn’t need to register if he could provide a birth certificate that showed he’d been born female.
He laughed like a crazy person right there in the reception area. He’d had his birth certificate changed several years ago. It was a monumental feat. He knew there’d be a way—they probably had the old one on file, right?—but no way was he going back to that office, to face that woman again, just to get a document that felt every bit to him like a nullification of everything he’d been through, everything he’d become. That record lurks back there like an accusation: “You aren’t really a man. You’re lying!”
He’d wadded up the application, put it in his pocket, and returned the clipboard without saying a word to the receptionist who also didn’t say anything to him. Then he drove to Home Depot and bought a new pair of knee pads for work. And a sledgehammer. On his way to the abandoned shipyard station on Treasure Island, he bought a fifth of Jack Daniels, a bag of Cheetos, and three packs of mini donuts with coconut crunch glaze. He smashed concrete block until he couldn’t lift the hammer. Then he sat on the hood of his truck, eating and drinking and thinking until morning rose on the bay.
It’s time to move, so he has a bunch of stuff to take to Goodwill. In the pile is a black suit. His best friend—the one who has known him before and after and provides a kind of constant love that he too often takes for granted—bought him this suit soon after he told her about his decision to transition to a man. A birthday suit.
They both got dressed up and went for a fancy dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. It is a wonder how easily that friend let him be this new thing, how seamlessly she switched pronouns and rewrote their memories. He should keep the suit, but it doesn’t fit him anymore. He is also shredding photos and papers before his move, everything that doesn’t look like him. He doesn’t like these traces.
Shock jock talk on The Bone’s morning show during his slog in traffic across the bridge. The guys joke about the bathroom bills that have been proposed in various states. To protect women and children, they say, from men pretending to be women. He lets out a long breath that ignites the smoldering vein of rage within. He yells, “Show me the crime stats! Where is this a problem? People are so fuckin’ ignorant!”
But it’s a microburst, dousing the fire, and calm settles in. He feels the heat linger in his ears. “I wonder how they think they’ll know who’s got what,” he says to no one. He knows it’s the MTFs they are after, knows they have a tougher time passing. He wonders if anyone is thinking about guys like him in this whole thing and then decides it’s better, safer, if no one’s thinking about him at all.
He will live his whole life worrying about this shit.
He will not live a whole life worrying about this shit.
TAYO BASQUIAT is a writer, teacher, trail runner, scavenger, and Wilderness First Responder. He recently gave up tenure as a philosophy professor to pursue an MFA in creative writing at the University of Wyoming. Tayo’s work has appeared in Superstition Review, On Second Thought, Northern Plains Ethics Journal, the Cheat River Review, and in a growing portfolio as producer of Wyoming Public Media’s “Spoken Words” podcast.